Football – Hands Off! When Ineligibles Touch A Pass


By Judson Howard

It is the dream of most offensive linemen to have a chance to run with the ball. In many cases, if possession was obtained after a fumble or muff, the lineman’s fantasy comes true. But if an offensive lineman or other ineligible receiver is first to touch a legal forward pass, the dream becomes a nightmare. It is known as illegal touching.

Illegal touching applies to legal forward passes behind or beyond the line. At the snap, eligible receivers are those in the backfield or on the end of the line with a number 1 to 49 or 80 to 99 (NFHS 7-5-6; NCAA 7-3-3). Interior linemen (regardless of number) and ends or backs numbered 50 to 79 are ineligible at the snap. Unlike the pro game, players numbered 50 to 79 inclusive cannot report to the referee to become eligible receivers.

In NFHS, the penalty for illegal touching is five yards from the basic spot and loss of down (7-5-13 Pen). In NCAA, the penalty is five yards from the previous spot with no loss of down (7-3-11 Pen).

Illegal touching is a positive act. Being touched by the pass is not a foul.

Play 1: First and 10 at team A’s 20 yardline. A forward pass hits guard A1’s back as he is blocking at team A’s 16 yardline. Ruling 1: Even though A1 is an ineligible receiver, there is no foul because A1 did not catch, bat or muff the pass.

If any team B player first touches a legal forward pass, all team A players become eligible (NFHS 7-5-6b; NCAA 7-3-5). In NCAA, a pass first touching an official makes everyone eligible as well.

In NCAA, a receiver can lose eligibility if he voluntarily goes out of bounds and is the first to touch a forward pass inbounds (7-3-4). That illegal touching penalty is loss of down at the previous spot with no loss of yardage. In NFHS, a player who is eligible at the snap remains eligible throughout the down (7-5-6d). Eligibles who go out of bounds on their own and return are guilty of illegal participation (9-6-2). Eligibles who go out of bounds as a result of contact by team B remain eligible if they return inbounds at the first opportunity (NFHS 9-6-1; NCAA 7-3-4 Exc).

Play 3: Eligible receiver A1 (a) is pushed out of bounds by B2, or (b) steps on the sideline. He returns to the field immediately, catches a pass at team A’s 30 yardline and runs into team B’s end zone. Ruling 3: In (a), since A1 was forced out and returned immediately, he remains eligible. The score counts. In (b), A1 is guilty of illegal participation (NFHS) or illegal touching (NCAA). In NFHS, the 15-yard penalty is enforced from the spot of the foul. In NCAA, it is loss of down at the previous spot.

Judson Howard, Los Angeles, officiated more than 20 years, many at the NCAA Division I level. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 04/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Feature – Football Clete – Clete Blakeman Biography

Originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Referee Magazine. Click here to subscribe.




NFL referee Clete Blakeman lights up the room and the field. That’s what his crewmates say about him. Tripp Sutter, a Big Ten official, had a formative experience that brought Clete Blakeman’s unique leadership qualities home. “I was 21 or 22 years old and went to work a game up at Dana College in Blair, Neb.,” he said. “I was asked to sub for the side judge, and it was my second collegiate game ever. Mostly I was working Omaha area high school metro games.”

As Sutter described it, he had concerns about walking into a new environment being both the young guy and the newcomer. Blakeman could have made things awkward for Sutter, kept him at a distance. Instead, the opposite happened.

“With Clete, he has the ability to make you feel like you are the most important person in the room,” Sutter explained. “He has the ‘it’ factor, making you feel welcome. He immediately made me feel like a part of the crew, not like an uncomfortable rookie.”


A friendship blossomed from that initial meeting, with Blakeman eventually standing up in Sutter’s wedding. “People love being around Clete. He knows who he is, and is comfortable in his own skin,” Sutter added.

On the football field that translates into a genuineness toward his crew, the players and coaches. “He’ll never patronize a coach,” Sutter said. “He listens and lets a coach know he cares, but sometimes that call is just going to go against you. It’s something I use as well — demonstrating that I care by listening and explaining something to a coach, if necessary.”

“He’s the real McCoy,” former NFL crewmate Greg Meyer agreed. Meyer got to know Blakeman when they were officiating in the Big 12 Conference, and they went on to work together in the NFL for five years — Blakeman’s rookie year in 2008, then his first four years as a referee starting in 2010.

The 50-year-old Blakeman, who lives in Omaha, Neb., was named a referee in 2010 after two seasons in the league. He was selected as the alternate referee for Super Bowl XLVIII between the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos in February 2014.

“He’s consistent, classy, confident and inclusive,” Meyer explained. “He’s a good listener, and not dictatorial.

“I admire how he conducts himself,” Meyer continued. As an example, he recalls that Blakeman would have his crewmates put their hands on the football together before they worked each game with the closing comment, “Be a man and be a professional.”

Sports Junkie

Blakeman’s love of sports started it all. He was playing everything in season — football, basketball, track, baseball, golf — as he grew up in Norfolk, Neb. Football became his focus in high school. He went to Norfolk High, eventually becoming the starting quarterback and earning a scholarship to the University of Nebraska.


In his playing days, Blakeman started two games at quarterback for the Nebraska Cornhuskers.


The irony of his high school career, according to Blakeman, is if he’d had to choose a sport in ninth grade, he would have chosen basketball.

In fall 1983, Blakeman enrolled at Nebraska as a scholarship quarterback, along with three other players at that position. “From Day One, I knew that I’d have to bust my tail — work hard, study hard, commit to do my best,” Blakeman said. “There was extreme competition from the start of fall camp until the end of my college playing days. You either embraced the work ethic or walked away.”

Blakeman found out some things about himself during his time at Nebraska — about his competitive instincts and his willingness to do whatever it took to get on the playing field; qualities that would bode well later in life.

“I fought through a lot of challenges, but it built character,” he said. “Coach (Tom) Osborne helped me in many ways with life lessons, and I can’t give him enough thanks and credit.” As a three-year letterman, Blakeman backed up Steve Taylor during his last two years. Blakeman started two games — one his senior year and one his junior year. The Huskers won both games. Blakeman threw three touchdown passes and ran for another in the 1986 game against Kansas.

“I remember Coach Osborne looking me in the eyes and saying, ‘You’re my starting quarterback this weekend,’” Blakeman recalled. “That was my goal and it became a significant personal achievement for me.”

Tim Millis, the former coordinator of officials in the Big 12 Conference, first met Blakeman on the field when Millis was an official and Blakeman was the backup quarterback. He saw very quickly what made Blakeman special.

“As football officials, we typically talk to the quarterbacks on offense and linebackers on defense,” Millis said. “Clete was (the backup) quarterback for Nebraska in the 1987 Sugar Bowl and at the 1988 Fiesta Bowl. Coincidentally, I worked both those games. You could see his personality and heart were bigger than his size. His teammates looked up to him.”

Millis, who went on to officiate in the NFL, watched Blakeman officiate at the small college level, and ultimately hired him into the Big 12.

“As a quarterback, Clete delivered, and you could recognize those leadership qualities,” Millis said. “He’s never cocky, makes the hard decisions and lets you know. People see and believe in him.”

Hanging Out With Dad

Blakeman said he has his dad, Glen Blakeman, who died last summer just before his 83rd birthday, to thank for starting him in officiating. While it wasn’t an automatic connection for Blakeman, he remembers the little things he picked up from his dad along the way.


Clete had the opportunity to officiate with his father, the late Glen Blakeman.


Glen officiated football and basketball, and was well-known and well-respected throughout northeast Nebraska. When Clete was too young to travel with his father, a weekly ritual developed between the two. Clete became his father’s shoe-shiner. Upon his late-night return home, Glen would set his officiating shoes outside Clete’s door for him to clean and shine the next morning. It was a detail that Clete picked up on — keeping your shoes clean and in good shape was important to how you looked and came across on the field.

“Sometimes they would be all coated with mud and I’d have to bang them around in the tub to get them clean enough to polish. He never paid me though,” Blakeman laughed.

“Officiating was definitely part of our world together,” he continued. “He officiated during the fall and winter and he would drag me along to games each week. It was a big part of my life. It was cool to hang out with my dad and be part of the environment. I’d get to ride along with the guys in the car, and just enjoyed being there. I felt like part of the crew.”

The time spent around other officials slowly rubbed off on Clete, as he developed a great appreciation for the rules and a respect for the game. But he wasn’t thinking about being an official when he was still playing.


It was after he finished college and was about to begin law school in fall 1988 that Glen suggested that Clete join his football crew. “It gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my dad and expand on my experiences as a kid,” Blakeman said. “The transition was unique. I didn’t know officiating would develop into a true love.”

On Friday afternoons, after Clete was done with law school classes, he would head off from Lincoln to some of the smaller towns in the northeast part of the state — Stanton, Columbus, Fremont, Battle Creek. The team environment felt right to him. Going from an offensive football unit with 10 teammates on the field to another team with three or four officials learning together, developing and with a passion for executing well was something he found appealing. And that has continued.

The Feeling of Arriving

Blakeman does not spend a lot of time reminiscing about games and plays. He enjoys them all and gets something special out of each contest.

Still, he remembers his very first season of officiating with his dad at Seacrest Field in Lincoln. “Wow, this is the big time,” he thought. It was a Class A (largest classification) football game and he felt the rush and adrenaline just like he does today in the NFL.

He went on to work small college football after his first year, officiating NAIA Division II games at such schools as Dana, Doane, Hastings, Concordia and Nebraska Wesleyan. That was his training ground for picking up the feel for college rules. “It was very competitive football,” he remembered.

From there, he gained exposure with several Big 8 (currently Big 12) officials, including Scott Koch, Tom Walker, Scott Gaines, Frank Gaines and Paul Brown. “They’re all great guys who are incredibly dedicated to the profession,” he said.

He began going to higher level meetings, expanding his knowledge of college rules. By then he’d worked four years with his dad, who was retiring from football officiating.

Millis brought Blakeman on board in the Big 12 at that time, and provided more structured evaluation and training.

“He elevated my progress immensely,” Blakeman said. “ I owe a lot to Tim, and had the pleasure to work for him for five years and then with Walt Anderson (current Big 12 coordinator and NFL referee) for two more years after that.

“I was fortunate to be able to work two Big 12 championship games during my years in the conference.”

At each step along the way, Blakeman was thinking about what might come next. So when he reached the Big 12, he began considering what it would take to make it to the NFL.

He worked three years in NFL Europe, then the training ground to get to the NFL, from 2004-06. In 2008 Mike Pereira, then vice president of NFL officiating, hired him into the NFL.

The NFL is “college multiplied by 100,” Blakeman said of the move up to the pros.

“The team concept is the most important thing we have as a crew,” Blakeman said. “It’s not about me. I’m the referee, but the team would be worse if I was just thinking about me. There are nine of us working together on every game — seven on the field and two in replay. Everyone of us has to buy in. Otherwise we fail together.”

Blakeman realizes he must see his crewmates’ strengths and weaknesses. “We all help and support each other,” he said. “It starts with me looking in the mirror and recognizing that I need to lead not only by words but by example, that I need to prepare to perform at the highest level each week. I have extremely high expectations for both myself and our crew. In the end, it’s about how we perform our jobs for those three hours on Sunday. I’m a big advocate of the philosophy that the better we prepare, the better we perform.”

Quiet, Confident Leader

Millis said that Blakeman’s leadership skills played a huge part in his being named a referee after just two years in the league.

“He’s a quiet, confident leader,” Millis said. “He has a unique personality. He’s not a showoff or know-it-all. Some guys in his position get ornery. He’s the opposite.”

Terrence Miles worked with Blakeman in the Big 12, entered the NFL in 2008, along with Blakeman, and worked on his crew from 2010-13. He cited Blakeman’s even-keeled nature as one of his key leadership skills. One of Blakeman’s pet phrases is, “We’ll get it worked out.”

“You know he’s in charge, but he’s not arrogant,” Miles said. “I don’t know how he combines the two qualities, but he does it.

“He deferred to the senior guys on the crew when he started as an NFL referee, learning what he could from each one of them,” Miles continued. “He’s organized about everything, from expenses to discussing issues that other crews around the league are having. He’s on top of all that stuff.

“We had a good group our first year, but there was still a learning curve. If there was a better way to do something, Clete would say, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ In his second year, Clete got beat up on his ratings, but you’d never know it. It never affected how he dealt with our crew or the games.”

Meyer agrees. “He’s one of the few guys who, regardless of the game, is the same guy every week,” Meyer said. “He has such a positive outlook; honest and direct. He is what he is.”

Even after a tough game, Meyer said Blakeman retains his disposition, leaving the bad things behind, and getting onto the next game. “He looks at what’s in it for ‘us’ not for ‘him,’ without yelling, screaming or calling you out.”

The crew chief in the NFL has to be the go-to guy and set the tone. “We need more guys like Clete with his type of disposition,” Meyer continued. “I haven’t met an official who wouldn’t want to be on Clete’s crew.”

Family Ties

That genuineness is something his wife Katie appreciates as well. When they met, Katie was immediately struck by how Clete treated others.

“I met this nice guy. He would treat Tom Osborne the same as the waitress serving us dinner. I was so attracted to that,” said Katie, who grew up on a farm in Lindsay, Neb.

Clete remembers their paths initially crossing at a Starbucks in 2007, and being struck by her beauty. “We talked for maybe 20 minutes,” he said. “She was very pretty, and I found out quickly she was beautiful inside and out. She’s smart and grounded.”

In addition to her job with a pharmaceutical company, Katie runs the household. “We’re a good pair. We complement each other well. It’s a natural relationship,” Clete observed.

The Blakemans were married in July 3, 2010, and have two children: three-year-old Maeve and one-year-old Hudson.


The Blakeman family: Katie, Maeve, Hudson and Clete.


In addition to his passion and love of family and football, Blakeman has a law career. He works as a personal injury attorney for Carlson & Burnett in Omaha. So he has to find the right time to review video, analyze plays, study for upcoming games and communicate with his crew in a way that seamlessly integrates into his family and business life.

“He studies rules and watches game film in his spare time, usually after the kids are put to bed, and finds a good balance,” Katie said.

Katie believes a large part of Blakeman’s success in all his endeavors is from his innate personality and how he treats others. “A lot of his success comes from his humbleness,” Katie said. “I thought he might be arrogant, but found he has good morals, values and principles, and our friendship moved onto a relationship. Church and God are important in both our lives, and Clete also isn’t afraid to show his emotions.

“People who meet him find out what a good guy he is,” she continued, “as well as a husband and father.

“Fundamentally, he’s a happy person. It’s that simple. He’s a ‘glass-half-full’ guy. He treats everyone with respect and he makes those around him feel important. People want to be around him. If he has something bad happen in a game or at work, he doesn’t bring it home with him.”

But he does involve his family in his officiating. Last spring he brought his wife and kids to the NFL Referee Association meeting. “(Officials have) become our extended family. So many great people are involved in NFL officiating,” Katie said.

“I get a kick out of watching Clete parent,” Meyer said. “His demeanor with them is the same he displays on the field.”

Professional Through and Through

Two stories sum up who Blakeman is, Miles said.

Typically, there is one locker room attendant for the NFL officiating crew at each stadium and the crew pays him for his help. In Green Bay there are two attendants, a father-son team, and the son is challenged. Blakeman suggested his crew pay both.

“It was cool to see their reaction,” Miles said. “We put the money in envelopes like we usually do, and you should have seen their faces light up when they opened them.”

Miles’ father died three years ago. The following year, crewmate Tony Veteri’s father also died.

“Clete called my wife to get some photos of my dad,” Miles recalled. “We were at Green Bay and he had them put the pictures of me and my dad up on the (Jumbotron). I got all teared up but that was the best motivator.

“Clete dedicated the season to my dad, then he did the same thing with Tony’s father,” Miles explained. “Before we would walk out of the tunnel on Sunday, Clete would tell the crew, ‘Be a man and be professional. Your dads are watching over us.’ It fired me and Tony up.”

Whether it’s meeting with the television network personnel or working with the technician who helps him test his microphone before the game, people agree that when Clete Blakeman shows up, others “light up.”

“There’s a sense of relief that, ‘Clete’s here,’” Miles said.

Dave Simon officiated basketball for 18 years, 12 at the collegiate level. He has written for Referee for 25 years, and currently lives in Grapevine, Texas.

Referee Magazine(This feature was published in the 02/15 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Softball – Infield Fly Basics


By Jay Miner

Behold the words of famed early sports expert and philosopher extraordinaire Oswald Tower (1883-1968). Tower unabashedly proclaimed, “All sports games should progress with as little interference as possible from the game officials with a realistic approach to officiating rather than a literal or legalistic approach. A well-officiated ballgame is one in which the official has called the game in accordance with the spirit and intent of the rules as established by the rules committee.”

Tower contended that officials are provided to maintain safety, a balance of fair play and good sporting conduct but should never attempt to orchestrate a competitive contest like a music conductor at a performance.

With that, perhaps nothing on the field other than illegal pitching causes more confusion, chaos and consternation than the infield fly. It is always best for umpires to use their experience and sense of fair play when enacting the infield fly rule.

Two unwavering philosophies.

Here are two absolute guidelines for judging and ultimately calling an infield fly:

1. Is an infield-area pop up a batted ball that could enable the fielders to execute an undeserved double play if the ball isn’t caught?   

2. Is a fielder in the infield area settled comfortably underneath the ball? Note: An infield-area pop up can sometimes include part of the outfield if the two guidelines are met. That depends, of course, upon the level of play of the participants.

Don’t call an infield fly until both of those requirements are met. An infield fly should not be declared before a fly ball reaches its apex, but it may be called seconds later when an umpire judges the ball is an infield fly.

Who are infielders regarding infield fly situations?

For the purpose of the infield fly, all infielders, the pitcher and the catcher are considered infielders. Also, any outfielder stationed in the infield at the time of the pitch or an outfielder who enters the infield area playing a batted ball are considered infielders for the purpose of the infield fly rule.

Infield fly signals.

When an infield fly situation initially presents itself, crew members must place their open palmed hand across the opposite chest in an umpire-to-umpire confirmation signal.

Alternate umpire-to-umpire infield fly signals include the touching of the bill of the cap with the index finger extended, a double tap of the hand on top of the cap and showing a thumbs up-closed fist signal or using both thumbs up for a two-, three- or four-umpire crew. Your local association or UIC can tell you if those signals are approved.       

When an actual infield fly is judged, the umpire will extend his or her arm overhead with the index finger pointing upward. After verbally declaring the infield fly, the umpire will clinch the extended hand into a fist.

When the infield fly is no longer in effect, an umpire-to-umpire signal is used with a wiping motion on the forearm from the elbow to the wrist.

Who calls infield fly?

For years most softball associations preferred that the plate umpire take primary responsibility for declaring the infield fly. However, that has changed and many associations are using shared-coverage mechanics. That is, either umpire can initially declare an infield fly. An exception includes a fly ball hit near a foul line where fair/foul is a consideration.

In those situations the plate umpire takes the lead by declaring, “Infield fly! The batter is out!” Should an untouched declared infield fly bounce foul between home and first or home and third, the plate umpire will then assertively and aggressively call, “Foul ball!” If a declared infield fly lands untouched in foul ground and bounds into fair territory, it is an infield fly and the batter is out. With any new mechanic, seek approval from your UIC or training officer.

Ask yourself.

Before declaring an infield fly, ask yourself, “Can this ball be caught by a fielder with ordinary effort?” However, avoid thinking, “Should this ball be caught by a fielder with ordinary effort?” There is a subtle but distinct difference between the two statements that is sometimes confusing even to umpires.

Runner’s rights.

Runners have the right to run at their peril on a declared infield fly or they may tag up and attempt to advance on any caught infield fly, the same as on any other fly ball.

A runner who is struck by an infield fly while on base is not out. The batter is out and the ball is live or dead depending upon the location of the nearest fielder. If the nearest fielder is behind the play, the ball is dead. If the nearest fielder is in front of the play, the ball is live. A runner who is struck by an infield fly while off base is out along with the batter.

If a declared infield fly strikes the batter-runner in fair territory, the batter-runner is out on the infield fly and the ball is dead.

What happens when an infield fly drops?

If a declared infield fly falls to the ground or is dropped, the calling umpire should dramatically and assertively confirm the call by loudly calling, “That’s an infield fly! The batter is out!”

Bunts, line drives.

A bunt or a line drive cannot be ruled an infield fly.

Intentionally dropped infield fly.

If an infield fly is intentionally dropped, the infield fly rule takes complete precedence over the intentionally dropped ball rule. The batter is out on the infield fly and the ball is live and in play.

Umpires erroneously fail to call infield fly.

In ASA and NFHS, if the umpires erroneously fail to call an infield fly that meets all requirements for an infield fly, it is the situation and not the umpire’s declaration that determines that it is an infield fly. That means the infield fly should be retroactively declared after the fact.

In NCAA and USSSA, an infield fly must be declared by an umpire or it’s not an infield fly and the ball is in play. That too can sometimes result in unfair rulings as my research confirms.  

Improperly declared infield fly.

If an infield fly is improperly declared, for example with runners on second and third, both teams should realize the fly was not an infield fly, though it was incorrectly declared. The ball remains in play.

Jay Miner is a longtime umpire, rules interpreter and former assigner from Albany, N.Y.

Volleyball – What Was That You Signaled?


By Patsy Burke

The first referee looks across the court and his or her partner has that “deer in the headlights” look. Oh no! Then a coach looks over at the first referee with a puzzled expression and asks the second referee, “What was that call?” That’s all because the signal shown by the first referee was either sloppy or completed too quickly to give anyone in the gym a clue about the fault that occurred.

Leaders continuously stress the importance of proper signals and mechanics, and with good reason. Aside from using the whistle, signals are the primary means of communication among officials, coaches, players and spectators. The signals used by the first and second referees constitute the “language” of the game, a non-verbal way to efficiently describe the result of each play during each set of the match.

The combination of a referees’ whistle and signals allows them to maintain a smooth flow of the match as well as constantly communicate with those around them.

Officials expect players and coaches to give their best, be professional in all aspects of the game, and referees should do the same with their signals. Crisp, clean signals go a long way in helping convey a referee’s knowledge, his or her observation of play, confidence, professionalism and control of the match. Don’t hurry your signals or be lax with the correct mechanics. Some officials suggest this approach: blow the whistle, breathe, signal which team receives the point and will serve next, clearly signal the fault, breathe, observe.

Here are a few things to remember:

• Avoid making two signals at once (i.e., awarding the point and signaling “two hits” at the same time) — that confuses everyone and could possibly give the appearance you are in a hurry or are uncertain.

• Make your signals “big” so people behind you can see them; however, they don’t need to be exaggerated or robotic.

• Don’t make your signals in front of your face. Be sure you can see your partner (“centering”), as well as the players and/or coaches.

• Don’t be too casual. It gives the perception that you aren’t interested in the match.

• Keep the thumbs flat against your index finger when beckoning for serve, signaling a point or a ball out of bounds. On an “out ball” your signal should not look like a football touchdown or field goal — your palms should be facing behind you.

• Substitution signal should be a circular motion — two rotations only.

• End-of-set signal is crossing arms over chest, hands open (not fists), palms facing the body, but not hugging yourself.

• In the post-match debriefing, discuss signal sequences and mechanics with your partner.

Those are just a few tips to help referees remember that proper signals and mechanics are very important in relaying the message about what is happening in the match.

Practice your signals in front of a mirror or ask someone to record you with review from a respected official in your area. It’s a great way to see what you do right and what can be improved. All referees should spend a few minutes fine-tuning signals before and during each season. Do signals impact the way you officiate a volleyball match? Absolutely!

Patsy Burke, Birmingham, Ala., is a longtime Alabama High School Athletic Association (AHSAA) volleyball and softball official, and the AHSAA state volleyball instructor.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 12/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – Manipulation Or Management?


By George Demetriou

One of the attributes that separates the best referees from their good counterparts is the ability to manage a game. Good game management includes dealing with unusual situations as well as the routine. It may mean doing things not directly addressed in the rulebook and, on occasion, it could include an act contradicting the rules. The latter is a very dangerous proposition and could lead to game manipulation instead of game management. Here are some examples.

Mercy clock.

The game was an apparent mismatch. The home team had made it to the state semifinals the previous year and the visitors were winless. Furthermore, the visitors were starting five freshmen due to academic ineligibles. The predictions came to fruition very early. After three plays and out, the visitor’s punter was stormed; he and the ball were hit in mid-air by two opponents and literally run over. Fortunately, no serious injury resulted. The ball was recovered by the home team for a touchdown.

The home team scored with less than two minutes remaining in the first half to go up, 42-0. By state adoption, the 40-point mercy rule to implement a running clock applied only to the second half. From deep in their own territory, the visitors ran two plays and threw an incomplete pass on third down, leaving 35 seconds on the clock. Assuming that the home team didn’t want to score anymore, the referee approached the visiting coach and asked, “Do you want to punt or should I run the clock? The coach said, “Run it.” The referee restarted the clock, waited for it to get under 25 seconds and blew the ready for play. The rules do not provide for starting the clock on the ready after an incomplete pass. The half was over.

Was that game management or manipulation?

Taking a knee.

The visitors were leading the first-round playoff game, 28-24. The home team was out of timeouts and threw an incomplete pass on fourth down with less than two minutes remaining in the game. The visitors ran two plays and let the play clock run down before taking their last timeout with 28 seconds remaining.

The referee approached the visiting coach and asked, “Are you going to take a knee?” The coach looked dumbfounded. A player yelled “Yeah, Coach, let’s take a knee.” The coach then changed the play to “Victory.” If they had run a play, they might have fumbled and the home team may have recovered the ball.

Was that game management or manipulation?

Extended injury timeout.

Middle linebacker B1 was injured on the play. With blood on his arm, he was lying on his back as the attendants approached him. He explained, “I’m cramping.” As one trainer bandaged his arm, the other manipulated B1’s legs to work out the cramps. After a lengthy delay, B1 was able to rise. The linesman then signaled a timeout for team B.

The linesman approached the referee and offered, “He asked if B1 could stay in the game if he took a timeout and I told him he could.” The referee replied, “That’s not allowed.” The referee approached team B’s coach and explained the rule (the coach was not surprised). The coach said, “The only reason I took a timeout was because your official told me I could take it to keep my player in the game.” “I realize that,” replied the referee “We’ll cancel your timeout and make it an extension of the injury timeout.”

The referee explained the situation to the opposing coach, who had no problem with it. The rules do not provide for revoking a timeout after it is granted.

Was that game management or manipulation?

Ready or snap?

Team A leads, 14-13, with less than two minutes in the game. The clock is running when A1 false starts. The foul did not appear to be intentional. After the penalty is enforced, the referee holds the clock until the snap.

The rules allow the referee to order the clock stopped or started when a team attempts to conserve or consume time illegally. Although the false start is an “illegal act,” there was no indication the foul was intended to consume time. Nonetheless, team A was going to get a time advantage from the foul.

Was the referee’s action game management or manipulation?

George Demetriou has been a football official since 1968. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colo. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – Calls You Gotta Sell!

Unexpected Calls Require Strong Voice, Signals


By Mike Droll

We are all taught early in our umpire training that some plays will occur that need to be sold harder than others. The type of play, along with the game situation that it falls under, will normally dictate when we need to be more demonstrative in letting players, fans and coaches know that we have something that they may not have expected. Those calls require a little more than just the louder voice and stronger signal required on a “whacker” or “one sounder” on the bases. I have a good friend in umpiring that calls those the “jump out of your shoes” calls.

One such situation comes when a batter is hit by a pitch, but you are not going to award him first base because he made no attempt to avoid being hit. That call is invariably going to lead to protest, so being on top of it right away in a manner that lets everyone know what you have is imperative.

In many cases the batter will have already started toward first, so you will have to come out from behind the plate and motion that he needs to come back to the batter’s box. A very strong signal such as pointing at the batter and then directly to his spot in the batter’s box is in order.

Calling batter’s interference when there was obvious contact between the hitter and catcher on the catcher’s attempt to throw out a runner needs to be sold. However, what about a situation in which there was no contact, or the catcher does not even make a throw? You may still have batter interference, and that is going to require coming out from behind the plate, pointing emphatically at the hitter and making a strong out signal.

Another situation needing a hard sell is when the interference is preceded by strike three. That means you are going to call the runner out on the batter’s interference in NCAA and pro and have the option of calling the runner out in NFHS.

Coming out from behind the plate and pointing at the batter while saying, “That’s interference!” will need to be followed by you moving toward the base where the runner ended up, pointing at him with an out signal and saying, “That runner is out!”

Another situation for plate umpires that really needs a hard sell is when a batter who is attempting to bunt makes contact with the pitch while his foot is outside of the batter’s box.

While trying to bunt for a base hit, many speedy players will get a running start on the bunt attempt. If they have a foot completely outside the batter’s box at the time of contact, you will have to nullify a possible successful bunt attempt by calling the batter out. Even if the batter fouls the pitch off, you are still going to have an out with any contact with the bat in that situation. That will be a very unexpected call that again will require pointing to the spot where the batter’s foot was outside the box at the time of contact and following that with an emphatic out call.

One unexpected situation that arises occasionally in baseball is the time play. When the third out is made on a non-force-out situation on the bases at the same time that a runner from third is about to step on the plate, the plate umpire must determine if the runner scored before or after the third out was recorded on the bases. If the run scores, the umpire should wave at the press box and then point forcefully down to the plate indicating that the run scores. Conversely, if the out was made just prior to the run scoring, the umpire needs to be just as vigorous in selling that fact. It is vitally important for the plate umpire to again wave at the press box and then make a similar signal to what a basketball official would make in not awarding a last-second shot (open palm hands crossing above your head a couple of times). Some umpires will make a signal similar to a football official declaring a pass incomplete, but that looks too much like a safe signal, leading to potential confusion.

Any time obstruction is called, an ardently demonstrated call is in order. However, when that obstruction takes place on a runner on whom a play is not being made, you may have to have a little more insistence in your tone and demeanor after playing action is over. Since that does not result in an immediate dead ball, your call will come after all playing action has ceased.

Because you may be the only one on the field who saw the play, you will have to sell your possible award of additional bases to an unsuspecting group of players, coaches and fans. You should point at the incident and call out, “That’s obstruction,” when it occurs. However, after the play is over, if an award of additional bases is warranted, you’ll need to call time, point at the runner and then signal the base that he will be awarded, while repeating that you had obstruction. A strong voice and vigorous insistent signals will help defuse what could potentially lead to a volatile situation.

A couple of plays at second base come to mind when thinking about situations that require a hard sell. One involves invoking the force play slide rule.

Pointing at the runner while barking out, “That’s interference,” should be followed by turning and pointing to first and indicating that the batter-runner is also out.

The other situation that can happen in many different locations and situations on the field is the catch and drop of the ball on a voluntary transfer and release. Probably the most common occurrence is the front end of the double play in which the fielder covering second base catches the throw from his teammate in time to get the runner, but loses control of the ball in the transfer from the glove to his throwing hand.

As you sell the catch and out at second with a strong out signal and then mimicking the transfer from the glove to the throwing hand, it is important to make sure that your two hands are moving in a vertical direction, so as not to be confused with a safe signal.

One final note to consider is that “coming out of your shoes” to sell an unexpected call should be limited to situations that require such histrionics.

Any umpire who oversells calls that don’t require such emphasis will quickly lose credibility with his partners and the rest of the participants in the game.

Mike Droll, Tipton, Iowa, umpires in the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 08/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Softball – Five Steps Toward Being Truly Great


By Jay Miner

Let’s assume you are a good umpire, even an exceptional umpire. You do well on association exams and know your mechanics. Nevertheless, do you think you are doing all you can to be a truly great umpire? Find out what it takes.

1. Plate stance. Is your head always one full head above the catcher’s head? Your feet should be wider than shoulder-width apart with your knees flared out rather than placing your feet egregiously wider than your ankles.

Do you have a personal “locking mechanism” to assure that your stance isn’t dropping as the game progresses? Is your butt above your knees and forming an upside down “V” in your crotch area? Are you positioned in the “slot” between the batter and the catcher?

Do you have good pelvic positioning with your navel facing the outside front corner of the plate? Make sure your “slot foot” is pointed directly at the pitcher. Be sure your back foot is angled about 45 degrees away from the catcher to ensure good clearance for the catcher. Keep your arms and elbows close to your body.

Your eyes should be level with your head and shoulders square to the pitcher with up to 80 percent of your weight forward. Your inside ear should be approximately on the black at the inside corner of the plate with your head outside the periphery of the strike zone as you look down and through the strike zone. Avoid “tunnel vision” with your eyes fixated ahead as the ball passes through the tunnel, but do track the ball to the glove with your eyes.

Your stance must be comfortable and balanced and you must see the outside corner “money pitch” with both eyes seeing the pitch as our self-help test ensures.

2. Self-help vision test. Take a copy of Referee and place it on the ground just off the outside corner of the plate. It is preferable to perform this test the first time at a vacant field or in a private area. Drop to your exact set position as you would for calling pitches and close your inside eye.

Up to 50 percent of umpires will find that Referee disappears. That means you are seeing the outside corner money pitch at the batter’s knees only with your inside eye. In some cases your nose will be blocking your view.

Keeping your inside eye closed, turn your head slowly toward the outside corner until your copy of Referee miraculously appears. After opening your inside eye you are guaranteed to be seeing that troublesome outside corner pitch with both eyes.

Familiarize yourself with the self-help test and do periodic tests during the game to be sure you are seeing the outside corner pitch with both eyes.

3. Six steps to calling a pitch. There are six critical steps to calling a pitch, which include: On the rubber (be alert for the pitch); get set (drop into your set position); track (pick up the ball at the release point and track the pitch); read (make a preliminary judgment on the status of the pitch); hold (allow the ball to strike the catcher’s glove before making your final judgment on the pitch); and call it (announce your final decision on the pitch and signal strikes with a professional signal).

4. Eliminate game interrupters. Strive to eliminate game interrupters from your umpiring. Start by securing enough balls to keep the game moving. If the plate umpire runs out of balls and holds his or her palms toward the sky with a quizzical look, that foolish looking umpire is at fault for not securing enough game balls to assure continuous play.

The plate umpire must start the game with at least three alternate balls in his or her possession. Increasingly, umpires are wearing two ball bags to carry alternate balls. Alternate balls do not have to be new balls but must be game-ready balls in good condition.

Do not interrupt the flow of the game by calling time to brush a few particles of dirt off the plate. Wait for an opportune time such as after a foul ball or between batters to brush the plate.

However, do brush the plate even if it is clean when the catcher has been struck by a hard foul ball to allow her time to recover. Bases other than home plate should rarely be brushed unless the base is not visible or your UIC has a different opinion.

5. Lineup changes. Do not make a production of walking to a bench to announce substitute players from the opposing team or stand there as the scorekeeper writes in the changes. After conferring with the coach, from the plate area loudly call, “Number 36 S. Jones is batting for number 44 B. Brown in the number six batting position.”

Using only numbers when announcing substitutions is asking for trouble. Remember, other than NCAA, there is no penalty for incorrect numbers, but there may be penalties for incorrect players. Ask the person making any change to confirm the change with the opposing scorekeeper.

In a facility with a press box, use hand signals for changes and provide numbers and batting positions to the official scorer.

Jay Miner is a longtime umpire, rules interpreter and former assigner from Albany, N.Y. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 02/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Volleyball – Set the Table


Scorer, Libero Tracker Vital in Well-Managed Match

By Brian Hemelgarn

For years, we’ve never really acknowledged the importance of the scorer as an integral part of a volleyball officiating crew. It seems there has always been a pecking order — first referee, second referee, line judges … and then the scorer. But anyone who has had a major scoring snafu during a match, or for that matter anyone who has benefitted from a scorer who is on top of things, can attest to the fact that he or she plays a vital role in a well-managed match.

USA Volleyball has a scorer certification program, including a national scorer rating. PAVO provides an initial certification program for collegiate scorers through local PAVO boards, which includes in-depth training materials using the NCAA scoresheet. And NFHS also recognizes the importance of the scorer, and this year added the libero tracker as a required member of the officiating crew.

So with our three governing bodies acknowledging the importance of the scorer in their rules and officiating structures, it’s time that referees do the same. It starts with learning how to interact with a scorer to ensure a smooth-flowing contest.

We all have to start somewhere. Inevitably, you will have an assignment where your scorer is inexperienced — maybe a parent from the stands or a kid from study hall. They deserve good pre-match instructions. If they have little or no experience, then stick to the basics, like recording points, substitutions and timeouts. It will be important that you give them all the time they need to record substitutions accurately during the match. When it comes to less common situations like recording a sanction, help them get it right by telling them exactly what information to record. The scoresheet is the official record of the match, and you want to make sure it is as accurate as possible.

Some experience under their belt. If the scorer has some experience, your pre-match instructions are still important, but it is equally important for you to assess their level of experience so that you can communicate clearly, giving them the information they need. Ask how they will handle certain match situations — recording a sanction or substitution, a libero serving or notifying you of a wrong server, for example. You can also ask that they help you by quickly providing basic team information such as substitutions or timeouts used upon request.

The most experienced table crew. When you have the opportunity to work with an experienced crew at the scorer’s table, the match can flow smoothly with minimal interruptions. It is best if you ask an experienced crew how they communicate with each other during the match. Often the libero tracker will provide player numbers during substitutions, verbally identify when the libero serves, and assist with other match details. It is best that you allow them to work within their system and that you adapt to their methods.     

The libero tracker. Although the scorer handles much of the scoring responsibility, the libero tracker is still an integral part of the team. Again, his or her experience level will dictate how you communicate with each other and what information he or she will provide to you. It’s important that libero trackers understand their role, especially if they don’t have much experience. Show them how libero replacements and substitutions are recorded on the tracking sheet and explain when a replacement is illegal and how they should notify you. Remind them that you’ll be asking about the status of each team’s libero (on/off the court) during timeouts.

When it all comes together. Our goal in each match, regardless of the experience level of the table crew, is to communicate clearly and respectfully, not only with each other but also with the teams. It starts with your approach and demeanor during pre-match instructions. Ask questions. Be flexible. Work within their system instead of trying to make them do it your way. 

Hints and tips. Start the match on the right foot by working together. As the scorer records team lineups on the scoresheet, ensure that the service order has been recorded correctly. The libero tracker should record lineups directly from the lineup sheet instead of the scoresheet; otherwise, if the scorer made an error recording the lineup, the libero tracker will repeat the same mistake. Then as you check lineups to start each set, ask that the scorer and libero tracker verify the players on the court. That ensures a wrong player doesn’t start the set.

With an experienced scorer who works well with the libero tracker, you’ll often find that they’re communicating substitution numbers quite well. Don’t interfere. Listen to their communication, and if you’ve seen the same players exchanging that they’ve identified, you don’t need to repeat numbers.

Come up with a few catch phrases that you can use with the scorer, and discuss the use of those phrases during your pre-match discussions. For example, “give me Team X” might mean “give me the next three servers for Team X.” That will be your front row and can help with identifying alignment issues. You might also ask for the last server for one of the teams, which will again help you with alignments. 

Let the scorer know when you’d like them to start notifying you about team substitution counts. That allows you to have that information immediately ready late in a set when a coach might ask how many substitutions have been used. Even though a team can have 18 subs in NFHS (12 in USAV; 15 in NCAA), it’s a good idea to have the scorer start reminding you four or five subs in advance of that total even if you’re using a lineup card (NFHS).

Scorers — the entire crew at the table, in fact — are vital to successfully officiating a match. Work on your communication skills with those team members. Be respectful, flexible and patient. Allow an experienced crew to work within its system, or be prepared to help a new scorer learn the basics. Your investment in those individuals will make you a better referee.

Brian Hemelgarn, LaSalle, Mich., is Referee’s volleyball coordinator and longtime NCAA men’s and women’s referee, and at the international level. He is on various PAVO and USAV committees. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 12/13 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Baseball – Protection Scheme

Hockey-Style Helmet, Mask Each Offer Positives


By Matt Moore

When I started umpiring, I was already a traditionalist.

I resisted the change from the Elbeco powder blue shirts to the Dazzle dark blue pullovers. I lived in Florida and not only were the shirts too dark, but they didn’t breathe. Too hot.

Then I wore them and after a game or two I evolved and now I don’t remember why I was such a fan of ironing my shirts before every contest.

I was the same way about my mask. When the hockey-style umpiring masks debuted about 10-15 years ago, I swore I would never wear one of those monstrosities.

Then I watched several MLB umpires get hurt while wearing the traditional masks and getting drilled by flying bats on violent backswings.

So in the summer of 2007, I bought a hockey-style mask.

And wouldn’t you know it, on the third batter of the game, I got a foul ball straight back into my brand new helmet. Bent the frame to the point I had to have it replaced. So we had a delay in the game for me to go get my mask out of my trunk.

But I didn’t feel a thing or feel any aftereffects (plenty of jokes about having nothing up there to concuss).

That day convinced me that I would never go back to the traditional mask.

Here are some of the arguments for making the switch to a helmet versus a traditional mask; and the reasons to stay with the mask or go back after having used a helmet.

The Helmet

Extra protection. Having the entire head covered does provide better protection from a foul ball and a wayward swing, be it an aggressive backswing or the batter losing his grip. I don’t think any mask or helmet provides complete protection, but having something on the side of my head sure makes me feel safer.

The helmet also protects the top of your head. A lot of fields these days have overhanging backstops and foul balls behind you will ricochet down in a hurry. Getting gonged on the head when wearing a traditional mask doesn’t feel good at all.

Field of vision. The bars on the helmet are farther away from your face, which tends to open up the field of vision, making it easier to see, with fewer blind spots. Maybe it is psychological, but I definitely believe that I see the pitch more clearly with the helmet than I did with the mask.

Not wearing a hat. Others who wear helmets agree that not wearing a hat is nice. Not only does it mean I don’t have to buy a new hat every half-season because of the sweat stains, but it’s a lot cooler (temperature-wise) to have the helmet with its airflow as opposed to the mask and a wool hat that lets no air in whatsoever.

Weight distribution. The weight of a hockey-style mask is distributed evenly, so that makes it easier to wear for longer periods of time.

The Mask

Less stigma. There aren’t any nicknames associated with being a traditionalist. But every umpire who wears the bucket has been called Darth Vader or made fun of in other ways — usually by other umpires.

Improved technology. Mask technology has improved greatly over the past few years. Stronger metal is being used to make the masks and the ability for that mask to absorb a direct hit is definitely greater than in previous years. And the advantage of weighing a lot less than a helmet makes a mask the call made by a lot of umpires.

Handles indirect shots better. Neither the mask nor the helmet is going to keep you from seeing stars on a direct shot, be it a fastball or a foul ball. But the mask is designed to be worn loosely enough so that it will spin off your head when it gets drilled. That will deflect some of the energy from the hit and provide protection for you. A hockey-style mask has nowhere to go.

Avoiding sweat. An umpire working the plate will definitely sweat, but by wearing a hat, you don’t get sweat in your eyes, like you can with a helmet.

Weight. Especially with today’s lightweight masks, a mask is a lot lighter on the head than a helmet.

If you have any sort of neck issues, the mask may be the way to go. Although the weight will be frontloaded, it’s still lighter overall than a helmet.

And if you are working a lot of games, whether in a season or just in a stretch, the lighter weight makes a tremendous difference.

Cost. The best hockey-style masks are still more than $225 at many retailers.

Since baseball umpires already spend the most on equipment, any savings is a good savings.

Easier to handle when off. Ask any helmet wearer and he will tell you the most difficult thing is where to hold the helmet when you aren’t wearing it.

The mask is much easier to get off when running down the first-base line or for being in position to make any call. It’s also lighter when you have to make that emphatic safe call.

And between hitters or between innings, the mask is easier to carry than the helmet. When you have to make substitutitons or record an offensive or defensive conference, the mask fits up under your arm, where a helmet wearer always has to monkey with it to get it adjusted correctly.

Whatever decision you make — mask or hockey-style helmet — don’t be averse to trying something different. You might like the new equipment better.

Matt Moore is a Referee associate editor.

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 07/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

Football – The Kick Is Up …

Rules Regarding Field Goals Can Be Tricky


By Craig Teitelbaum

Given the variety of potential outcomes, a field goal poses unique officiating challenges. Judging whether or not the kick is successful is not even half the battle. There are a number of possible outcomes or options depending on what happens on the play.

To begin, remember that a field goal is a scrimmage kick. It may be a place kick or a drop kick from scrimmage (or in NFHS only, a free kick following a fair catch or an awarded fair catch). For a scoring kick to be successful, the entire ball must pass completely over the crossbar and completely between the inside edges of the uprights. In NFHS, the crossbar is treated as a plane, whereas in NCAA it’s treated as a line. Thus if a field goal is blown back or returns back over the crossbar into the end zone under NCAA rules it is no good (NFHS 8-4-1; NCAA 8-4-1).

A field goal is unsuccessful if the kick touches the ground or touches a kicking team player. In NFHS, that touching must occur while the team K player is beyond the expanded neutral zone (8-4-1b); in NCAA, the touching must occur at any point after the ball is kicked (8-4-1a).

A field goal attempt that does not cross the neutral zone is treated the same as a punt from scrimmage. In NFHS, if an unsuccessful attempt crosses the neutral zone, it is treated the same as a punt. In NCAA, if the kick is untouched by team R beyond the neutral zone, the ball belongs to team R at the previous spot. If the previous spot was inside team R’s 20 yardline, it’s team R’s ball on its 20 yardline (8-4-2). If the play occurs during extra periods, extra period rules govern.

If team R commits a live-ball foul during a successful field goal, team K is given the choice of accepting the penalty and replaying the down following enforcement from the previous spot. In NFHS, team K also has the choice of accepting the result of the play and enforcement of the penalty from the succeeding spot (8-4-3), whereas in NCAA there is no enforcement from the succeeding spot unless the penalty is for a live-ball foul treated as a dead-ball foul or a dead-ball foul (10-2-5d).

Play 1: With fourth and eight from team R’s 34 yardline, team K’s attempted field goal is short, lands at team R’s seven yardline and comes to rest untouched at team R’s five yardline. Ruling 1: In NFHS, the play is treated the same as if it were a punt; thus it’s team R’s ball, first and 10 at team R’s five yardline. In NCAA, team R will have first and 10 at team R’s 34 yardline (the previous spot).

Play 2: Same as play 1, except R1 touches the loose ball at team R’s seven yardline and it goes out of bounds at team R’s five yardline. Ruling 2: In both codes, it will be team R’s ball, first and 10 at its own five yardline.

Play 3: Midway through the second quarter, it is fourth and 10 at team R’s 32 yardline. K1’s attempted field goal is successful. R2 is flagged for holding while the ball is in flight. Ruling 3: In both codes, team K has the option of declining the penalty and accepting the score or having the penalty enforced from the previous spot. In NFHS, team K also has the option of accepting the points and having the penalty enforced on the succeeding kickoff.

The holder. At any other time in a game, if a player’s knee touches the ground while he is in possession of the ball, the ball is dead by rule. There is an exception for holders on field goals and extra points, however. A holder, who at the snap has his knee on the ground while there is a teammate in kicking position, is permitted to rise to catch or recover an errant snap, immediately return his knee to the ground and place the ball for a kick or again rise to advance. In NFHS, the holder must raise his knee from the ground before trying to advance, hand, kick or pass the ball. Failing to do so results in the ball becoming dead (4-2-2 Exc 1-2). In NCAA, the holder need not rise before handing off or passing (4-1-3b).

Play 4: Team K lines up in field goal formation from team R’s 17 yardline. Holder K1 receives the snap while kneeling at team R’s 24 yardline. From that position, K1 throws a (a) forward, or (b) backward pass to K2, who runs into the end zone. Ruling 4: In NFHS, the holder must lift his knee when passing forward or backward or handing the ball; thus the ball is dead. In NCAA, it’s a touchdown in both cases.

“Goaltending.” If a team R player blocks a field goal attempt basketball style, the codes vary on the result.

Play 5: R9 in his end zone leaps and bats K1’s field goal attempt. The ball strikes the ground in front of the crossbar and rolls out of bounds in the end zone. Ruling 5: In NFHS, the ball is dead when it’s apparent the kick will not score. Result: touchback. In NCAA, it’s a foul for illegal batting and yields a safety (NFHS 6.3.1B; NCAA AR 9-4-1 II).

Craig Teitelbaum is a veteran official from  Charlotte, N.C. 

Referee Magazine(This article was published in the 03/12 issue of Referee Magazine.)

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